Trump’s sentencing in N.Y. hush money case postponed until September (2024)

NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s sentencing in his New York hush money case on Tuesday was pushed back to September, as his lawyers seek to persuade the trial judge that his conviction should be tossed out after a Supreme Court ruling that presidents have immunity for official acts.

The much-anticipated sentencing of the former president and presumptive GOP nominee for president in the November election was set to take place next week, following his May conviction on 34 counts of falsifying business records. That sentencing is now tentatively scheduled for Sept. 18, and the judge said other proceedings could take place that day instead, if necessary.

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan granted requests by the parties to allow time for legal filings. Merchan said he would rule on those motions Sept. 6.

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The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 along ideological lines on Monday that a president is immune from prosecution for official acts but can face trial for private conduct. The delayed sentencing is the first of what is expected to be many practical effects of the court’s far-reaching ruling.

That decision may or may not have much bearing on Trump’s conviction in New York, because the conduct at issue was principally about paying hush money to an adult-film actress and then concealing the nature of reimbursing Trump’s former lawyer for arranging the payment. But Trump’s legal team is poised to use the new ruling to attack the trial evidence, because the Supreme Court said evidence related to official acts of a president may not be presented to a jury to prove alleged private criminal activity.

Trump’s conviction for covering up the payment, which was made ahead of the 2016 presidential election, was based in part on evidence of meetings and communications that occurred while he was president.

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Trump’s lawyers requested a delay on Monday so they could seek a ruling to set aside the jury’s findings of guilt.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office noted in a letter to the court Tuesday that sentencing would have to be delayed from July 11 for the defense to make its case about how the Supreme Court’s decision could affect Trump’s state court prosecution.

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In early April, Merchan rejected a request by Trump’s lawyers to postpone the trial until after the Supreme Court’s ruling on immunity on the basis that the window had passed to make that request. The Supreme Court ruling was sparked by a different criminal case, Trump’s federal election-interference trial in D.C. But it may affect the former president’s other cases, as well.

Trump attorneys Todd Blanche and Emil Bove now have until July 10 to file their written arguments to the judge, and prosecutors are due to respond two weeks later.

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Prosecutors said they did not oppose a delay but added that the defense arguments about how the Supreme Court ruling should affect the New York case are “without merit.”

Former prosecutor Gary Galperin, an adjunct professor at Cardozo School of Law who recently left the Manhattan district attorney’s office after more than four decades, said that while Merchan could have stuck to his schedule and moved ahead with sentencing, it made sense to allow time to hear the immunity-related arguments and for prosecutors to agree to it to help protect the conviction on appeal.

Galperin said he could envision Merchan denying the defense’s motions and proceeding with sentencing Trump on Sept. 18, finding that Trump’s conduct, even while in office, was unrelated to the presidency and government functions. The judge could also rely on the fact that the plan to conceal the payments was hatched before Trump’s presidency.

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“Much of what Trump did in terms of coming up with the scheme, the conspiracy, if you want to accept the [DA’s] evidence, occurred while he was still a candidate, so he obviously wasn’t acting officially as a president, because this was all about getting himself elected,” Galperin said.

A federal judge in Manhattan found in an opinion a year ago that the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his office had no connection to the presidency, denying a bid by Trump attorneys to have the case transferred to federal court.

“Trump has failed to show that the conduct charged by the Indictment is for or relating to any act performed by or for the President under color of the official acts of a President,” U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein wrote July 19, 2023. “Trump also has failed to show that he has a colorable federal defense to the Indictment.”

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Since the start of the case, lawyers for Trump have argued that he should be immune from prosecution because much of the alleged conduct occurred while Trump was in the White House. While the payoff to adult-film star Stormy Daniels took place in 2016, weeks before Trump was elected, his reimbursem*nts to his former lawyer Michael Cohen occurred in 2017, and those payments generated a significant amount of documentation used by prosecutors to prove their case.

The reimbursem*nts were falsely classified as legal expenses and were not reported on Trump’s campaign spending disclosures.

Jurors in the trial were shown evidence and heard testimony related to conduct that occurred while Trump was in office. Included in that were incriminating tweets from the account Trump used as president.

Trump’s attorneys argued before the trial began that certain evidence the prosecution was slated to introduce should have been barred by the immunity doctrine, and Merchan said he would rule on individual immunity claims during the trial as they came up. The defense said in its letter that prosecutors relied heavily “on official-acts evidence, including witness testimony regarding events in the Oval Office that [the prosecution] described as ‘devastating.’”

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“Under [the Supreme Court ruling], this official-acts evidence should never have been put before the jury,” Blanche and Bove wrote.

It is possible that ligation over the application of the Supreme Court’s decision to the Manhattan district attorney’s case could create a cascade of bids for delay, as the issue is now one of first impression. If Merchan decides that the conviction will stand, Trump’s side probably will seek a stay of sentencing from the appellate court.

The complication comes as the 2024 presidential race intensifies after last week’s televised debate between Trump and President Biden. Both candidates were seen as having significant flaws, but there was a particular focus on Biden for the various times he appeared confused or unable to collect his thoughts.

Trump and his campaign have sought to capitalize on Biden’s perceived decline even as the former president faces four criminal indictments and civil court judgments totaling more than $550 million in separate matters for offenses including business fraud, defamation and sexual abuse.

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If Trump’s conviction survives post-verdict motions, he faces up to four years in prison in the false-records case. It is unlikely Trump will stand trial for any of the other three criminal matters before the November election. Two of them relate to his alleged interference efforts in the 2020 election, and another is tied to the alleged illegal retention of highly sensitive government records after he left office.

In Trump’s federal case in Washington related to Jan. 6, 2021, the one that was under consideration in the Supreme Court decision, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan must wait until early August to begin to sort out how the court ruling will curb the case brought by special counsel Jack Smith and whether the scope of evidence in that case must be narrowed.

In that matter, Trump is accused of trying to undo the legitimate results of the 2020 election.

Trump and his attorneys deny all charges and insist that he is being targeted for political reasons.

Trump’s sentencing in N.Y. hush money case postponed until September (2024)
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